Jon Armbruster, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Biology, University of Illinois, 1997

B.S. Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution, 1991

OFFICE: 131 Biodiversity Learning Center

LAB: 212-213 M. White Smith Hall

PHONE: Office-(334) 844-9261, Cell-(334) 444-7828

FAX: (334) 844-9234 

EMAIL Google Scholar CV


Peru, 2022


What: I study the taxonomy and systematics of freshwater fishes, particularly the Loricariidae (suckermouth armored catfishes) and Cyprinoids (minnows and barbs) with some work on Trichomycteridae (pencil catfishes), Crenuchidae (South American Darters), Amblyopsidae (North American Cavefishes), Catostomidae (Suckers), and a few other groups. My students study a wide variety of other taxa, and they have even done some marine work and I even supervised one doing phylogenetic work on pseudoscorpions. I particularly like intractable taxonomic problems where it is difficult to define genera, species, and/or higher taxa. We use phylogenetic and phylogenomic techniques to unravel the relationships of the taxa and to inform morphological evolution. In addition to taxonomy and systematics, I study the evolution of morphology, evolutionary ecology, and conservation.

The 63 species I have described.

Where: My research has taken me around the world. Much of my research has been in South and North America, but I have also worked in Africa, Asia, and New Guinea. My lab has strived to make it to places that few have ever gone like the Guiana Shield, where access is often limited. See some of the places I have worked below.


My main course is Comparative Anatomy (BIOL 3010). Comparative Anatomy is the study of the evolution of the morphological systems of vertebrates.  I teach this every Spring. 


To learn a little more about me, see this Conservation Connection podcast on my work.

I was born on the north side of Chicago and lived close to Wrigley Field first and then near Ohare Airport. My mother and grandfather instilled in me a love of fishing, which gradually transformed into keeping aquaria in high school, and my father instilled a general love of the outdoors. I often point to an incident at the pet store in which I worked as starting me down my career path. We had received a large shipment of common plecos (Pterygoplichthys pardalis  or P. pardalis X disjunctivus). When I came in early the next morning, many of them were on the ground and presumably dead. They had jumped out, perhaps due to over crowding, during the night. I was about to throw one in the trash when it barely moved. Somehow it was alive! We put them back in the tank and most survived. I would later work on accessory respiratory organs of plecos and Pterygoplichthys has a large, respiratory stomach that allows them to breathe air.

In college, I started in engineering, but was soon bored of the material and decided to go back to my first love. My first research as an undergrad was on fish behavior with Dr. Carol Johnston at the University of Illinois and Illinois Natural History Survey. I would stay at the Illinois Natural History Survey as a graduate student under Dr. Larry Page. In 1992, I took my first trip to the Neotropics and found a fish that I identified as Aphanotorulus that I figured was new. That got me hooked on loricariids and I started a project on the morphological phylogeny of them for my PhD, which I obtained in 1997.

After the PhD, I did a year-long postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian under Dr. Richard Vari, studying a group of wood-eating catfishes then known as Cochlidon. That year (1998), I obtained a faculty position at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and I began building the fish collection and getting it in order. The collection was about 25,000 cataloged lots (jars) in 1998 and is now 86,500! These came in part from our collections (about 25,000 lots) as well as rescuing orphaned collections and cataloging backlog.

Part of the growth of the Auburn University Fish Collection was because of the All Catfishes Species Inventory, one of the largest grants in the history of taxonomy. I was a co-principal investigator along with Larry Page, John Lundberg, Mark Sabaj, Carl Ferraris, and John Friel. ACSI was likely the single greatest factor in the growth of species descriptions of catfishes in the early part of the twenty-first century. When it was completed, I joined ACSI II or the All Cypriniformes Species Inventory along with Larry Page and Richard Mayden. I was looking for a change of pace and a group that would be easier to examine the evolutionary ecology of. This project allowed me to branch out to different taxa, different geographic regions, and different types of analyses. in particular, my lab published one of the first broad phylogenomic studies in fishes examining the relationships of the Cypriniformes as well as a recent study on the phylogenomics of the North American Shiners.

Along the way, my life also went underground with the study of the North American Cavefishes. This is a complex and difficult taxonomic group. Our main study species has been the Southern Cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus). Despite most cave animals being fairly restricted to individual cave systems, Typhlichthys lineages are pretty broadly distributed, and we almost never see adults!

Today, we are looking to foward the work that we have been doing on the Cypriniformes, particularly the Leuciscidae (the group of minnows that includes all of the native North American species) and the Catostomidae (suckers). In addition, we will likely expand our work on the African Small Barbs. There is still a lot of South American taxonomy that we are working on as well. 

I am married with two kids (Brian and Will). My wife (Heather) is an instructor of Anatomy and Physiology at Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, and neither of the kids seem to have any interest in anatomy at all! I have two dogs, Eevee (a german shepherd/doberman mix) and Autumn (hound/lab/pit/probably a bunch of other things mix). I like fixing and building things around the house (although I am not particularly good at it). I recently started playing guitar after not having done so since I was about 13.

Below are some photos of me in the field throughout the years in Alabama, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guyana, and Suriname.